Amber Sorenson's three moneyballs in the final 3:57 of the game gave Northern Iowa Panthers (17-13) lead for good. The Panthers advance to the Valley semifinals with the 59-50 win over Southern Illinois Salukis (17-13).
"It wasn't pretty but we'll take it," said Northern Iowa head coach. "We gutted out another one. This team has been doing this all season long and I couldn't be more proud of them."
Sorenson finished with 12 points on 4-of-11 from deep. Brooke Brown led the Panthers with 16 points.
"The first one felt really good," said Sorenson. "You know you just have those shots that feel good."
A sloppy first half, mirrored by turnovers, neither team found rhythm as it felt like a track meet through the early part of the contest.
The game was tied 12-12 at the second media timeout, but two quick baskets from Dyana Pierre and Mercedes Griffin put the Salukis up 16-12 with 6:30 remaining until half.
Northern Iowa closed the first half on a 14-7 run, much contributed to Brittani Donaldson's back-to-back 3-pointers.
The Panthers led 26-23 at halftime.
A 10-0 run out of halftime brought the Salukis in the front 33-26, Southern Illinois largest lead of the game. They would hold the lead over the Panthers for the next seven minutes before Northern Iowa would take a 42-41 lead with 8:18 remaining.
After heading into the final media timeout knotted at 44-all, junior Amber Sorenson took over. She nailed three consecutive 3-pointers over the span of just 90 seconds to put the Panthers up 53-44 with 1:42 remaining in regulation.
Before that, the Panthers were just 3-of-19 from deep, Sorenson was 1-of-8 as well then, too.
"There's urgency in the tournament," said Brown of UNI. "There is a lot of energy and no matter what year it is for me, every single possession could be my last. It was more going out there and making reads and being aggressive and confident."
Southern Illinois didn't do what was needed down the stretch. They finished just 2-of-19 from the field and a combined 2-of-18 from 3-point range. Those two game in the final moments, as the game had already been decided.
For the Salukis, they were so close to a program changing win. With just one tournament victory since 1997, the Salukis seemed armed and ready. However a 13-1 run over the final three minutes just did them in.
Pierre finished with 21 rebounds and 18 points but wasn't enough for the Salukis. Azia Washington contributed 14 points for Southern Illinois.
Southern Illinois attempted 80 field goal attempts in the contest, a new Missouri Valley tournament record.
There's a chance for the Salukis to be playing post season basketball. The CBI and the NIT will be looking for teams over the next week or so.
"I'm always excited," said Pierre. "There's always room for improvement. I'm excited for the entire team. I'm excited to see what coach Stein has in store for us."
Northern Iowa now will take on No. 1 overall seed Wichita State Shockers tomorrow afternoon at 1:35 p.m. CST. That game can be seen live on ESPN3.
It's also the first time Northern Iowa advances to the semifinals since 2013. It'll be a rematch of that 2013 semifinal, as they'll get their shot at Wichita State.